Before fitting a fireplace in the home you’ll need professional advice regarding heat output, fuel sources and fitting, and advice from an interior designer may be useful, too. The fire surround size is important – too big and it will overpower the room, too small and it will look insignificant. The size of the existing opening, chimney breast and flue will influence the size of fire and surround that will be suitable for the room – if possible, it may be worth considering structural alterations to get exactly what you want.
Most reputable fireplace showrooms offer an installation service, or can recommend registered fitters and installers in the local area. If the chimney is sound and the flue in good working order, then you’ll have the option to choose a fire that burns solid fuel or logs, or perhaps even a stove ceramic smoking pipes. For a fuss-free real flame, a gas fire is your best bet, as an open-basket gas-burning fire with ceramic “coals” is virtually indistinguishable from a real coal-burning fire.
If there’s no flue, or even no fireplace opening, there are still some electric and gel models that can create an interesting focal point in the room. There is a choice of flue-less gas fires available, too, where the waste gases are taken out of the room via a pipe that is ducted through an outside wall. As most homes are centrally heated, the fire doesn’t have to be the primary heat source in the room, but if a significant heat output is required, look at models with either a heat exchanger or a glass front, as these will project more heat into the room. The National Fireplace Association provides details of UK suppliers and installers.
Before choosing a surround and colour scheme, the most basic decision will be what sort of fuel you want to use. A decorative gas fire is a straightforward choice, and even if there’s no gas supply point to the fireplace, it’s a relatively simple task to run a pipe to the fireplace opening – this will need to be installed by a CORGI-registered fitter. Other options are solid fuel, electric, gel or log fires.
If there isn’t an existing working fire, then the state of the chimney will need to be checked. Brick chimneys are compatible with any sort of fire, but the chimney should be swept and checked. Pre-fabricated and pre-cast flues are found in more modern homes, and most types of fire can be installed where there is a pre-fabricated flue, although a pre-cast flue will limit your choice to slimline designs – a fireplace specialist will be able to advise.
Homes without a chimney can still have a working gas fire, but it will need to be a fanned or balanced flue model, situated on, or ducted to, an outside wall. However, there are some new models that do not need an outside wall, such as the Mirror Fire Line from CVO Fire.
Fanned flue models have a fan that expels the exhaust gases, so need a power supply, which will produce some noise. However, fanned flue models have the advantage of being able to be fitted on to most walls; balanced flue models need to be installed on to an outside wall.
Even if you are chimney-less, flue-less and don’t have a suitable outside wall, there’s still the option of an electric or gel fire. Although more suited to modern homes, they can be a practical, attractive choice in apartments where there’s no scope to install a real or gas fire.
A traditional or classically inspired fireplace is virtually guaranteed to look good in any type of home. The replacement of surround, fire and hearth, as well as the installation costs, are not insignificant, so many people opt for a simple, classic look rather than branching out into hi-tech modernism.
Architectural salvage and reclamation yards may offer the best chance of finding something appropriate. If using a new version of an original style, there are shops and suppliers that can provide beautifully detailed, authentic-looking historical reproductions made from a range of materials. Traditional designs in light-coloured stones such as limestone and marble are popular at the moment.
Contemporary fires and fireplaces offer flexibility of scale and proportion. Whether the fire is gas, gel or electric, contemporary surrounds use sleek and minimalist modern materials, such as glass or polished steel. With some fires, the fire basket and burner have been replaced with a handful of metal rods -giving out heat and a warming glow to the room.
Recently, the trend has been for hole-in-the-wall designs, which do away with a hearth completely, and are often minus a surround, too. These fires are usually gas, and can consist of a burner providing a regimented row of flames, a firebowl, or a pile of driftwood or pebbles. Hole-in-the-wall designs are suited to smaller rooms where floor space is limited. Many electric fires follow the hole-in-the-wall concept, but most can simply be hung on any wall and connected to an electrical supply
There are currently a good range of contemporary-style stoves available, so if the idea of an enclosed, freestanding appliance that will give out a good supply of heat appeals, you won’t be restricted to old-fashioned, cast-iron designs. Stoves have a flue, can be placed in a fireplace opening, or against an outside wall (in which case it will be a balanced-flue design) or there are some flueless models that can be positioned more or less anywhere. Choose from multifuel (coal, smokeless fuel or wood), gas (or LPG), oil or electric models. There are also a few wood-pellet models on the market, which have the added advantage of allowing you to load three-days worth of fuel into a hopper that feeds the stove. This, in turn, means that the stove can be electronically controlled using a timer. Furthermore, whilst the stoves can be expensive to buy when compared to multi-fuel options, the wood pellets are an inexpensive fuel.
Electric and Gas Stoves
Electric stoves, consisting of an electric fan heater and flame-effect fronting, are more of a decorative addition to a room than a serious heat source. They can, however, be good for providing extra heat in a small conservatory. Gas-powered models can have ceramic logs or coals, and oil models burn in a similar way, with coal or log effects. Traditional stoves made from cast iron remain firm favourites, but enamelled and stainless-steel finishes are also popular.